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The Dancing class

also known as La Classe de Danse

Artist: Edgar Degas
Created: 1873-75
Dimensions (cm): 75.0 x 85.0
Format: Oil on canvas
Location: Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France

This work is a study of ballerinas at the Paris opera. Degas worked on numerous sketches and studies of the individual figures in the work and also made several alterations to the canvas in order to create the painting we see today.

The painting depicts a large group of dancers, both standing and sitting, arranged in a loose row which spans the length of the rehearsal space. The focus of the work and of the ballerinas is the dance teacher, Jules Perrot, and his star pupil. There is a sense of subtle movement among the gathered dancers; some are intently listening to the teacher while others are more idle. Some play with their costumes; one ballerina lazily scratches her back. A number of details create an intimacy in the scene: a water can used to dust the floor can be seen, a small dog is present, and stage mothers sit attentively in the background.

All the details of the work are calculated by the artist to create an atmosphere. Degas worked on numerous preliminary sketches and studies of the figures and objects seen in The Dancing Class. Oil and charcoal sketches of the dancer scratching her back can still be seen today, as can numerous studies of the teacher. Degas also made several alterations to the canvas itself. These alterations were meant to emphasize and focus on the role of the teacher. This figure was originally turned towards the back wall and the two dancers in the foreground were turned to look towards the viewer. In the final work, the teacher faces in and the ballerinas' eyes gaze in his direction.

The constant repetition and varying of a theme is a central feature of Degas' work and can be clearly recognized through an examination of The Dancing Class and the ballerina series.


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